Even through a pandemic, a Northwest Indiana restaurant franchise owner finds success

DYER, Indiana (CBS) — We often hear sobering stats about the tens of thousands of restaurants that closed because of the pandemic.

The Indiana Restaurant and Lodging Association tells us nearly 60% of owners say they’re making less money now than before 2020.

All of this didn’t stop a former garbage man from taking a chance on the restaurant industry.

Morning Insider Lauren Victory takes us through an unlikely career switch that is paying off.

Joel Bustos is a boss now, giving direction. That’s ironic because he says his younger self didn’t really have any.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do so that’s why I joined the military,” said Bustos who tried sanitation work after his time in the Navy.

“Run to the back, dump the garbage. Run to the front, drive to the next house. Run to the back, dump it,” he said, recapping that role.

Up next, a construction job.

“It’s a lot of being on your hands and knees all day. Grinding, prepping the floor,” explained Bustos.

Five long, hard years took their toll.

“My wife, she noticed that my body’s breaking down. I was not getting enough rest. She’s like, ‘Listen, we gotta do something,'” Bustos said.

The opportunity arose to own a “Clean Eatz” restaurant. The franchise operates in 18 states, selling healthy pre-made and to-go meals.

“If you’re doing it on your own, you’re just experimenting the first few months to see what works, what doesn’t work while corporate already has all that,” said Bustos of his decision to become a franchisee.

The number of places that are franchised-owned grew in the past decade. More than 11% of restaurants, gas stations, fitness centers and businesses in other popular industries are franchise owned, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Before he could take any orders, Bustos needed to save up for his future franchise, which meant hustling with his hard hat for another two-and-a-half years.

“In total, we invested about $310,000 to open with our own money,” he said.

Everything was set to go but less than two weeks before welcoming customers at his “Clean Eatz” in Dyer, COVID-19 shut Indiana down.

“We were just surviving off tips and stuff like that. It was devastating,” Bustos said.

He and his wife rode the rollercoaster, busting their butts to get to the other side. Now he’s in the process of opening a second “Clean Eatz” location in the Merrillville area.

“My kids are proud. My wife’s proud,” said Bustos of his American dream achieved. 

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